C+S July 2020 Vol. 6 Issue 7 (web)

Remote Control: Drones Become Mission Critical Engineering Tool How Combining UAVs with Cameras and Advanced Sensors Can Deliver Insights Needed to Reduce Costs, Speed Projects, Enhance Safety and Minimize Disruption By Mike Stys

Ortho Photo captured with UAV

LiDAR data captured of area with UAV

Aviation Administration (FAA) line of site requirements. But they are ideal for a variety of specific tasks, including project development and management, construction surveys, safety inspections, volume mea- surements, and 3D modeling, as long as they are piloted by certified individuals with expertise in data collection and monitored by licensed survey professionals. Getting First-hand Experience For the past four years, my firm, NV5, has been deploying drones to tackle challenges that we were not able to solve with traditional aerial surveys. Because drones can fly lower, and slower, we are able to cap- ture much higher resolution data, which helps inform our engineering team at every stage of their projects. We rely on a combination of cameras and lidar sensors mounted on UAVs for site surveys and inspections. As a result, we can collect high- resolution imagery to form a 3D model that can be used to measure true distances, both horizontally and vertically. This information is valuable because it aids in our site surveys and pre-construction planning and pricing, such as making volume calculations for moving dirt and de- termining the best routes for roads, transmission lines or pipelines. We also use the images to document the construction process to mitigate liability and provide insights to executives at headquarters without requiring them to visit the job site. Lidar – or high-density light detection and ranging technology – uses laser light to map physical environments, penetrating vegetation and other minor obstructions. We use state-of-the art sensors, which en- able us to generate accurate horizontal position and vertical elevation data. From that, a point cloud, comprised of millions of elevation data points, is used to map terrain and help engineers visualize both natural and manmade objects in and around our project sites. Drone + Advanced Data Collection Tools Deliver on Operational Improvements Since we started using drones for data collection, we've seen a number of improvements, including: • Speed, comprehensiveness and efficiency of data collection – The comprehensive and thorough data collection inherent with combined photographic and lidar surveys have eliminated the need to remobi-

Anyone overseeing a construction, transportation, or utility project knows the pressure to come in on time and under budget. Given the number of factors that can impact a project from day to day, that's easier said than done. However, having good data from site surveys at the start, and being able to continually assess conditions as a project progresses, can go a long way in minimizing the challenges that arise, costing the project valuable time and money. The addition of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – more commonly referred to as drones – combined with high-resolution cameras and ad- vanced lidar sensors to the data collection toolbox makes it possible for engineering firms to gather more and better data, more frequently. In the process, these remote data collection platforms can help speed proj- ects to completion and reduce overall costs, while improving safety by reducing the need for in-person site visits, and preventing disruptions to traffic and operations that are common with more traditional aerial or boots-on-the-ground surveys. Drone Use Taking Off The market for drones is exploding, with global shipments expected to reach 2.4 million in just the next three years according to Business In- sider Intelligence. At same time, commercial drone applications, which generated about $18 billion last year, will grow to more than $42 bil- lion, fueled by an increase in the energy, construction and engineering sectors, according to Drone Industry Insights. Drone-based data collection is a game changer for these sectors. The adaptable-to-launch systems are able to get precise geospatial and site survey information to engineering design teams in a matter of hours and days, rather than the weeks or months it typically takes when using airplanes and helicopters, or sending surveyors into the field. And the advanced sensors and cameras carried by the drones can gather more detailed data than these traditional methods, too. This data is valuable not only in the design phase, but it can be leveraged later, if the project scope changes, inspectors have questions, or geospatial information is needed for other planning purposes or even emergency response. While still in the early stages for civil and structural engineering use, drones cannot be used everywhere, given the current strict Federal



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